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Atogun explains the African folk narrative voice in his work



When the 9mobile Prize for African Literature longlist was recently released, Odafe Atogun was one of four Nigerian authors on it on account of his debut fiction work, Taduno’s Song and he expresses how exciting it felt to arrive at that junction: “It is like getting a present I have waited for all my life. I feel encouraged to write more and that in itself makes me feel fulfilled.”

With a new book already published in the United Kingdom and due out soon in Nigeria titled, Wake Me When I’m Gone, it seems Atogun is already living his dream as a published writer.

“Yes, these are exciting times,” he acknowledges. “When you are speaking to a global audience it does not matter where you are based. As long as your voice carries across oceans, the world is your home. Of course, when you dream you reach for the sky. You cannot fulfill your dream if you do not believe in it. And if you believe, then you will settle for nothing but the very best.”

Atogun’s style is allegory and fantasy with which he has masterfully woven his tales in the two books. Not by chance, he says, but a deliberate invention to carve a creative niche for himself.

Rather than a shift from the prevailing narrative form, Atogun asserts that his style is borne out of the need to be original and distinct as a writer.

He notes, “Deliberate invention, I must say. In the beginning, I noticed a consistency in my voice, which I felt comfortable with. So, it was a question of developing that voice over the years. Originality is the key word for any artist. The need to express myself in my own unique way has always been very important to me. So, it is not so much the desire to shift from the norm, as the tendency to be original as an artist.

“Artists are not bound by rigid styles. The beauty of creative works lies in the diverse ways in which they are presented. So, I wouldn’t say my style is different; I would prefer to say original.”

For the originality of Atogun’s style to manifest, he has had to stay close to his African roots from which he draws inspiration from the folk narrative form. He acknowledges the debt he owes African oral narratives in his works, noting, “Each time I write, I imagine that I’m telling a story to an audience gathered around a fire under a starlit sky and I naturally deploy the tone of a folklorist in presenting my story. So, I would say that African folklore has helped to develop my style in no small way.”   

Atogun’s work appropriates protest themes and he says readers should best determine how he should be read, saying, “Maybe it is just the way my mind works. We all have different approaches to dealing with issues or presenting them. As for protest, as a potent tool for social change, I think it is something that we have always deployed, but maybe not well enough. Most essential for me is to write timeless and universal stories.”

A discernable partern in Atogun’s work is his focus on the past even in an Internet age. He, however, cannot say for certain when he would write new media-compliant book, asserting, “Sometimes, some of the answers we seek are hidden in our past. When we visit our past, it helps us to understand our present and shape the future, to achieve a more promising perspective. Writing a book for the age is all about the inspiration I receive. I cannot flow counter to it. I drift with the flow of my creativity, and each work I produce will always reflect that.”

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